Two Rwandan Roman Catholic nuns, convicted in 2001 by a Belgian Crown Court (Cour d'Assises) of participating in the 1994 genocide, have lodged an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights, Reuters reported.
Sister Gertrude, named as Consolata Mukangando, and Sister Maria Kizito, named as Julienne Mukabutera, were accused of failing to protect between 5,000 and 7,000 people who had sought sanctuary in their Benedictine convent. Prosecutors said the two Hutu nuns drove local Tutsis - mostly women and children - out of their compound and stood by as militiamen killed them.
The nuns - who fled to Belgium in 1994 - were also accused of informing militiamen that some people had fled to nearby buildings. Kizito was also accused of providing jerry cans of gasoline used to set a garage containing 500 people on fire.
The nuns were sentenced to 15 and 12 years' imprisonment respectively without right of appeal. Only the Cour de Cassation (the highest court of appeal) would have been authorised to review legal technicalities of the case, but not the facts, if a request had been made within 15 days.
"They believe they did not get a fair trial," a lawyer representing Kizito told Reuters. He said the appeal would centre on key witnesses and the chief accuser, Emmanuel Rekeraho, head of the extremist militia in Sovu, southern Rwanda, where the crimes had been committed, who could not testify at the nuns' trial as he had already been imprisoned in Rwanda. "We were never able to question him," the lawyer said.
Defence lawyers at the trial expressed doubt over a foreign jury's ability to understand the complexities of the 1994 genocide, while lawyers for the victims said the involvement of a people's jury "avoided transforming the trial into a political debate".
"It was not a justice of revenge, but a justice aimed at paving the way to reconciliation in Rwanda." one lawyer commented at the time.
The Rwandan genocide survivors' association, Ibuka, also expressed satisfaction with the trial. It described the sentences as a "victory against impunity". The ground-breaking trial was the first in which a country has judged war crimes and human rights violations committed by foreigners on foreign soil.